The Department of Defense’s cloud plan for 2023 is all about building out the tactical edge beyond U.S. borders, according to a top department official.

Sharon Woods, the director of the Defense Information Systems Agency (DISA) Hosting and Compute Center, explained that DISA is in the process of developing a prototype for a cloud outside of the continental United States (OCONUS) and the prototype is currently in the post minimum viable product stage.

DISA’s current beta test of the OCONUS cloud deployment leans on services provided by the newly awarded Joint Warfighting Cloud Capability (JWCC) and DISA’s private cloud offering, Stratus.

“DISA’s current beta testing of OCONUS Cloud can be broken down into three separate tiers,” Woods said during a virtual event hosted by Defense One on March 14.

Tier one, is the strategic core cloud, enabling persistent and reliable connection in the United States. In tier two, the operational cloud, applications, and data are pushed out outside of the United States, but the actual management still must reach back to the United States. Tier three is the tactical edge, where the cloud is self-contained and completely disconnected, and there is no need to reach back to the United States for management.

“The thinking is let’s tackle the operational middle-tier layer to start and so by creating essentially an OCONUS region Stratus, it lets the application and data get closer to the point of need, the management reach back is still necessary. And that’s just the nature of that middle tier, but we’re still meeting OCONUS cloud needs,” Woods said, adding that this beta testing is currently taking place in DISA’s Ford Island base.

As it continues to beta test tier two, DISA has begun to consider how to sever that management reach-back need and how to manage locally – this is where JWCC capabilities could help.

“One of the things that JWCC brings to the table,” Woods said, “it’s filling that gap for all classification levels and out to the tactical edge. And that scope isn’t met by any contract right now. Not the full scope, and not on an enterprise basis for the entire department.”

Although JWCC and Stratus are two different programs and contracting vehicles, Woods believes the capabilities both bring to the table offer multi-layered and multi-faceted capabilities that are tackling different facets of what it means to be in different locations across the world.

“With JWCC, you get access to a wide breadth of capabilities that include capabilities that tackle both the operational edge and offer a true tactical edge where it’s a completely disconnected and portable form with local hosting and compute,” Woods said.

“You can marry that up with Stratus because that is another operational edge capability, but the benefit there is that you have commercial cloud capabilities, you have the private cloud capabilities, and it starts creating that multi-layered redundancy. And that is important to working in a global environment,” she added.

In addition, Woods explained that not all applications are ready for commercial cloud, and this is where Stratus is also useful because it can house applications that may be sufficiently virtualized to operate in a private cloud environment and have an OCONUS Cloud need, but are just not ready to move into the commercial cloud.

DISA’s Hosting and Compute Center must meet a full breadth of requirements and by joining JWCC and Stratus, Woods explained, it can make sure that there’s no application left behind.

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Lisbeth Perez
Lisbeth Perez
Lisbeth Perez is a MeriTalk Senior Technology Reporter covering the intersection of government and technology.